Guidance to School Counselor: The Evolution of Professional School Counseling

The role of the school counselor has undergone many changes over the years. From a role with limited capacity to one whose focus extends beyond the academic realm, these changes were broad and necessary. Today, school counseling is as much about wellbeing and mental health as it is about academics and career.

The History of School Counseling

School counseling has existed for over a hundred years. According to the West Virginia Department of Education, the field was created in response to the Industrial Revolution when vocational teachers adopted dual roles. These teachers were given no extra pay for their efforts and followed a rigid, career-centric plan: orientate the student, assess their skills and abilities, provide counsel and placement in available positions, and follow-up. From school to factory was the ultimate goal.

In the 1900s, school counseling broadened its horizons. The role and responsibilities expanded to involve the identification and assistance of failing students, teaching socially appropriate behaviors, developing positive character traits, tracking attendance, and helping graduates transition into the workforce. However, Hack Education refers to the Space Race mid-century that redefined school counseling altogether.

Americans reacted when Russia launched Sputnik in 1957 and, as a result, congress passed the National Defense Education Act. With the Cold War in full swing, counselors were asked to “guide” talented students towards science and technology; suddenly, the proverbial “guidance counselor” was born.  

The profession continued to grow over the next decade. The West Virginia Department of Education describes the use of federal funds to implement counselor preparation programs. Between 1958 and the decade that followed, the number of counselors walking the halls of middle and high schools tripled. By the time America beat the Soviets to the moon in 1969, it was in full bloom.

Part of this blossoming had to do with the presidential administration. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), a legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson, aspired to fight the War on Poverty through equal access to quality education. According to the Virginia Commonwealth University, the ESEA funded counseling in primary and secondary schools. It paid for professional development, instructional materials, and supplemental programs. The ESEA also helped to promote the involvement of parents in their child’s education and personal well being.

The role of the school counselor continued to evolve, even changing in the most recent years. The term “guidance” when referring to a counselor in a school is viewed as an archaic term and a word that makes counselors cringe. The reason for this is simple: counselors no longer focus on only guiding students into the workforce. There is a higher concentration of personal and social support in present day school counselor roles.

As the school counselor definition changed, so did the educational requirements of those in the profession. Anyone hoping to secure a counselor job must prepare with coursework in a variety of areas. As listed by the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), these include: human growth and development, individual and group counseling, theories, social and cultural foundations, testing/appraisal, research and program evaluation, professional orientation, and career development.

The Professional School Counselor’s Role Today

School counseling is no longer a job where vocational teachers or teachers of any subject serve as suitable substitutes. It stands alone as a separate asset of education.

With the growth of this career came an expansion of duties. As listed by the ASCA, school counselors encourage a variety of mindsets and behaviors from their students. They also participate in many aspects of education and personal growth including individual and group counseling, student planning, career and college preparation, character building, social skills, study skills, crisis intervention, and preventive and/or proactive program implementation.

School counselors are to achieve a number of competencies too. These are knowledge, skills, attitudes, and abilities that allow them to address student, teacher, parent, and school concerns. As mentioned above, these areas focus on career, social/emotional development, and academics. School counselors are must also address state and district initiatives and set standards of integrity and professionalism. As the face of their school’s counseling program, counselors must be comfortable with leadership and advocacy when needed.

To qualify for a school counselor job, a master’s degree in school counseling is required (at a minimum). School counselors must also meet certain certification standards and agree to abide by the laws of their state of employment. They must strive to uphold the values set forth by the ASCA National Model through the foundation, delivery, management, and accountability of a comprehensive school counseling program.

School counselors address the needs of their studentsm through design, evaluation, implementation, and enhancement of their programs. Most often, collaboration with parents, teachers, and school administers is required. Sometimes, collaboration with other mental health professionals may even be necessary.

Expectedly, ethical standards apply. The American School Counselor Association lists many standards including: collaboration with others to assure optimal outcomes, providing a program that ensures academic, career and social/emotional development, assessment and review of student data, creating a culture of collegiate readiness, avoiding dual relationships and setting boundaries, willingness to address advocacy and referrals, paying special attention to underserved students, maintain confidentiality, and addressing issues such as bullying.

Per the Houston Chronicle, there are certain personality traits that make a person more likely to succeed in counseling. These include: patience, trustworthiness, comfort using data, a willingness to implement evidence-based practices, compassion, observational skills, and a focus on equality in order to provide all students with academic, career, and social preparation.

The role of the school counselor has grown since its conception: the counselor of today is a different character. What was once a role focused on getting students out the classroom doors and into manufacturing careers, now involves so much more. School counselors focus on mental health, behavioral health, emotional health, and psychosocial wellness and development. Though a school counselor does indeed provide guidance in terms of academics and career selection, they are not limited to a guidance capacity and serve a larger purpose in the lives of their students and within the walls of their schools.